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As Usual, Misplaced Priorities

The August 17 Lower Saucon Township Council meeting was just another in a long line of meetings where it was abundantly clear that this council has some seriously skewed priorities.

Let’s start with the fact that there were only three councilpeople there, constituting the minimum number required for a quorum.  Mrs. deLeon and Carocci were both absent.  Since Yerger seldom contributes anything of any value and Inglis was only on his second meeting and apparently not feeling competent to participate, we were instead treated to an entire evening of Banonis monologue, pontificating and opining on any and every agenda item.  Right there you know you’re in for a long evening.  And sure enough, we were there until 8:47 PM.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

The bulk of the agenda was housekeeping, just about the only thing this council does with a modicum of competence.  There was a resolution honoring Talitha Diggs for her athletic accomplishments, accepted by her coach since neither she nor her parents could make it.  There was an update on the Meadows Road Bridge replacement, introduction of new police officers, a variety of grants to be applied for and budget transfers to be made and such-like.  A bunch of stuff got tabled until the new township manager shows up, presumably at the next meeting on September 20.

One interesting item was a presentation by Attorney Chris Spadoni on behalf of township residents Dr. and Mrs. Haller regarding some serious water drainage issues on their property which they believe are the result of work that was incorrectly done on their neighbor’s property back in 2007.  They’re looking for help from the township engineer to investigate if that was the case and whether they can get some relief from it.  This has apparently been an ongoing issue for quite some time.  The township engineer apparently went out to look the problem over but since it’s been dry (duh!) he couldn’t tell much.  This is all very difficult to figure out and it’s not helped much by the word salad that passes for Council minutes these days, but it seemed as if the zoning officer back in 2009 concluded that in fact the original plan was not followed but, oh well, these things happen.  I think the upshot was that the township engineer will go out with the zoning officer when it’s raining and see what’s up.  I have the feeling this is not the last we’ve heard of this.

Cognitive Dissonance

One agenda item just dripped with cognitive dissonance.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that Banonis and Carocci in particular love to tout how they are SO careful with taxpayers’ money and wouldn’t consider spending it without careful consideration.  Well, this being Interim Manager Peter Marshall’s last meeting, he had lots of parting suggestions for the Township on how they could spend taxpayers’ money.  Remember, this is the same guy who arrived back in March and immediately concluded we needed to buy about $20,000 worth of new furniture for the office.  Having worked closely with the township staff for a mere six months, he concluded that the Director of Public Works was grossly underpaid and that the Finance Director needed a promotion, a new title and a significant salary increase.   This is the same person who had already recommended increasing the incoming manager’s salary by 22% over what had been budgeted.  That was approved when the new guy was hired.  In addition, Marshall recommended that the township also pay for a market study of all the administrative positions at a cost of about $3500, a move that will presumably result in increases in their salaries also.

Why is this a problem?  The timing just seems a bit off.  For one thing, as resident Laura Ray pointed out in the public comment period before the meeting, budgeting season is coming up shortly.  In fact, the first budget presentation is October 5. Wouldn’t that be the appropriate time to consider raises, promotions and other such stuff to take effect on January 1?  It’s not like we haven’t been doling out all kinds of bonuses during the Covid crisis to almost every breathing employee.  But no, these changes had to happen right now.

The new township manager also started on August 22.  Shouldn’t it be his responsibility to evaluate the people who will be working for him and determine what the appropriate job titles and salaries should be? What if his evaluation isn’t the same as Marshall’s and now he’s stuck with the new pay grades and job titles?  Oh, but we were assured that he was more than happy to have had Marshall make these recommendations and do this work.  Okay, now I’m more than a little concerned about the independence and self-confidence of the new manager.  Why would he want someone else to do this for him?  And how careful is he going to be about all that taxpayer money he’s in charge of spending.  Of course, he might just be grateful for that 22% salary increase Marshall recommended.

So thanks for your service, Interim Manager Marshall.  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Relationships with the Neighbors – Hellertown

Now let’s look at another priority – relationships with the neighbors.  As I explained in my August 17 blog, “LST Council – A Farce in 3 Acts, Act 3: Divorce Settlements”, before the August 17 Council meeting three letters were received from Hellertown Borough, the result of the Borough’s evaluation of whether it was worthwhile to continue a variety of relationships with LST – the pool, the Yard Waste Center and the Saucon Valley Partnership.  Those letters were on the August 17 agenda for discussion.

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

Banonis just couldn’t help himself in mischaracterizing the relationship with Hellertown vis-á-vis the pool.  In his words, “the Township also subsidizes Hellertown by giving them the difference between non-resident rate and the resident rate for the LST residents that use the pool.”  No, the Township doesn’t subsidize Hellertown.  The Township subsidizes its residents in their use of the Hellertown pool.  Hellertown has every right to charge LST residents the non-resident rate.  They’re non-residents (duh!).  The Township offers the difference so that LST residents can pay the resident rate instead.  But he’s always looking for a way to distort and defame Hellertown and their actions.

There was some discussion about the Yard Waste Center, mostly around a request from Hellertown for LST to pay half of the shredding fee for this year’s compost.  No discussion about the problems that a lack of access to the Center will create for residents.  And there was exactly ZERO discussion about the dissolution of the Saucon Valley Partnership, the source of a variety of collaborative ventures over the last 18 years. 

Doesn’t it seem reasonable that there should have been some discussion about the impact that these changes will have on LST residents? Increased pool prices?  Nowhere to take yard waste, including Christmas trees, for composting?  No source for free compost?  The loss of a variety of Hellertown/Lower Saucon events?  Perhaps there could have been some concern about how LST might repair the relationship with Hellertown?  Maybe a thought for how this might disrupt communications between the neighboring municipalities that also share a school district?

Nope, not a priority.   Not even a concern.  Not a peep. Nothing.  Crickets.  Because they don’t care.

Relationships with the Neighbors – Southern Lehigh Public Library

And then of course there’s the library.  Laura Ray raised some interesting points regarding the second $50,000 check that was cut for the Southern Lehigh Public Library and eventually cashed by SLPL.  As she pointed out in the public comments period after the agenda, the purpose for which the first check was approved does not seem to be the purpose for which the second check – which did not have a separate approval – was used.  While the first one was approved to expand library services to SLPL, the second one was provided “with no strings attached” as a thank you for past library services which, I’ll point out, were already available by state library law to LST residents.  So, as an SLPL Board member explained it, “they paid us $50,000 for something we were already required to give them.”

And on the subject of good neighbors, we are being anything but that to our neighbors at the SLPL.  I attended the SLPL Board of Directors’ meeting on August 16 because after they cashed the LST check, they said they would be evaluating the pros and cons of adding LST to their designated service area and I wanted to hear what they had come up with first-hand.  What was clear to me that night is that we have done them no service by dumping this problem in their lap. They have now had to spend considerable time and energy – as volunteers – evaluating something they didn’t ask for and don’t want.  They weren’t even close at their last board meeting to having any kind of answers because it was taking so much work on top of their own concerns about supporting their library as it currently exists.  

It’s on the agenda again for tonight’s SLPL meeting.  I’ll be there to hear what they’ve come up with.  Frankly, after LST screwed Hellertown Borough and the Hellertown Area Library and continues to appropriate services for which it has not paid, and after LST forced SLPL into this unwanted discussion and unnecessary work, why would SLPL – or for that matter, any of its supporting municipalities – want to climb in bed with these bozos?  Do Upper Saucon or Lower Milford really think that including LST is going to reduce their own financial responsibility for the library?  Or that LST will even honor whatever commitment it makes?  If you believe that, I have a very nice bridge I’d like to sell you.

Live-streaming – Or Not

One more point from the August 17 meeting.  Diane Hollowell once again raised the issue of the lack of township-provided livestreaming or Zoom meetings, something countless other municipalities have had since the start of Covid.  Here’s another issue that was postponed because of a concern (by Banonis and/or Carocci) for not spending taxpayers’ money until the new Township Manager was here and could have a say in it.  Well, he’s here.  Now do something.

And while you’re at it, fix the amplification that’s currently in the council meeting room.  Watch the livestream from the August 17 meeting and count how many times the audience gets so fed up with not being able to hear what the council members are saying that they actually yell, “Speak up.”  But then, I suspect that’s a feature, not a bug.

Next Township Council Meeting – Wednesday, September 21, 6:30 PM – Township Hall

As a service to the community, the meeting will be live-streamed on the Saucon Shenanigans Facebook page.

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